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Monday, March 12

Iraq: Boo-Yah! The counterinsurgency is working!

"Both friends and foes in Iraq had been convinced, in no small part by the American media, that the United States was preparing to pull out. When the opposite occurred, this alone shifted the dynamic."

Robert Kagan, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, has launched a broadside at the American media for their biased reporting on the Coalition war effort in Iraq. This, in the course of reporting in yesterday's Washington Post that "substantial" evidence is mounting that the new Iraq counterinsurgency strategy created by General David Petraeus and backed by a troop surge is having a significant effect in Baghdad and Ramadi. Of the media, Kagan writes:
No one is asking American journalists to start emphasizing the 'good' news. All they have to do is report what is occurring, though it may conflict with the previous judgments. Some are still selling books based on the premise that the war is lost, end. But what if there is a new chapter to the story?
From Kagan's report it seems the new chapter is being written. He quotes observations from NBC's Brian Williams that there has been a dramatic change in Ramadi since Williams's previous visit:
The city was safer; the airport more secure. The new American strategy of "getting out, decentralizing, going into the neighborhoods, grabbing a toehold, telling the enemy we're here, start talking to the locals -- that is having an obvious and palpable effect."

US soldiers forged agreements with local religious leaders and pushed al-Qaeda back -- a trend other observers have noted in some Sunni-dominated areas. The result, Williams said, is that "the war has changed."
Kagan quotes Iraq the Model bloggers Mohammed and Omar Fadhil's observations about the improvement in Baghdad:
The first impact of the "surge," they write, was psychological. Both friends and foes in Iraq had been convinced, in no small part by the American media, that the United States was preparing to pull out. When the opposite occurred, this alone shifted the dynamic.

The Fadhil's report, "One difference between this and earlier -- failed -- attempts to secure Baghdad is the willingness of the Iraq and U.S. governments to commit enough resources for enough time to make it work."

[...] Now, the plan to secure Baghdad "is becoming stricter and gaining momentum by the day as more troops pour into the city, allowing for a better implementation of the 'clear and hold' strategy."

Baghdadis "always want the 'hold' part to materialize, and feel safe when they go out and find the Army and police maintaining their posts -- the bad guys can't intimidate as long as the troops are staying."
Kagan observes that Baghdadis' greater confidence in the counterinsurgency has had several benefits:
The number of security tips about insurgents that Iraqi civilians provide has jumped sharply. Stores and marketplaces are reopening in Baghdad, increasing the sense of community. People dislocated by sectarian violence are returning to their homes. As a result, "many Baghdadis feel hopeful again about the future, and the fear of civil war is slowly being replaced by optimism that peace might one day return to this city," the Fadhils report. "This change in mood is something huge by itself."
As for Sadr and the Shiite militias, Kagan makes a good point
[...] it is possible they may reemerge as a problem later. But trying to wait out the American and Iraqi effort may be hazardous if the [Iraqi] public becomes less tolerant of their violence. It could not be comforting to Sadr or al-Qaeda to read in The New York Times that the United States plans to keep higher force levels in Iraq through at least the beginning of 2008. The only good news for them would be if the Bush administration in its infinite wisdom starts talking again about drawing down forces."
More bad news for Mookie: U.S. and Iraqi forces have established a presence in the once off-limits Sadr City. His militias are not taking that lying down; the Fadils report that while his militias are keeping a low profile, they've started a disinformation campaign in the attempt to discredit the new Coalition effort. But the proof is in the actions, and right now the Coalition is acting right on time.

Iraq the Model also has an interesting report on the policing aspect of Operation Imposing Law:
[...]A few days ago the government announced more traffic-related measures to support “Imposing Law” in Baghdad. Under the first order, it will be forbidden to park any private vehicles in the main streets of the city. Under the second -- a reinstating of an old order -- vehicles with odd and even numbered plates would only be allowed on the streets on alternate days. This means that only half of the several hundred thousand of private vehicles will be on the streets on any day. The order applies to private vehicles only, but cuts the work involved in screening vehicles approximately in half.

[...] Elsewhere in the capital the troops are using not only guns and Humvees, but also shovels and bulldozers. In areas such as Karrada and Palestine Street Iraqi soldiers and workers of the Baghdad municipal services are working on removing trespasses on public property and irregular roadblocks set by locals at earlier times. The measure sparked anger and dismay among some people whose businesses were damaged because the bulldozers also removed irregular kiosks and stalls.

An Iraqi officer explained the decision yesterday by saying that those illegal roadblocks and trespasses were making it difficult for the troops to quickly reach areas where intervention is needed.

Other law enforcement officials are also getting more serious in doing their job. Traffic cops who would normally stop a suspicious vehicle only if it passed by their post are now riding their motorbikes and chasing suspected vehicles down highways and other streets.

This is an indication that Imposing Law does not mean only sending soldiers to kill terrorists. It is reaching out to deal with other aspects of mess and to counter relatively “benign” violations-like breaking the “odd and even” traffic rule, defensive irregular roadblocks and unlicensed kiosks and stalls-by providing protection for the personnel of civilian departments while they do their job.

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